Old Bay and “Kathmandu” by Banira Giri
You can put Old Bay on popcorn. You can sprinkle it on cucumbers if that’s what you’ve got. Old Bay on corn, Old Bay in a Bloody Mary, Old Bay on deviled eggs. Any potato. Fry or tot or chip. Of course any shellfish. Crab or shrimp.
Old Bay has mustard, paprika, celery salt, bay leaf, black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, mace, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. A German guy invented it, but a map of Old Bay’s ingredients is a map of the world. Incidentally, Nepal is one of the largest producers of mustard, cardamom, and ginger.
I have two 6 oz. tins of Old Bay in my house. One tin came from Atlanta by way of upstate New York poet Mike Dockins. He bought some when he cat-sat here and then left it for us. The other tin came from Baltimore poet Megan McShea. She brought it when she visited on tour for her excellent book, A Mountain City of Toad Splendor.
I taught a Food and Culture seminar at a women’s college in Bangladesh a few years ago, and every month or so the students, who came from all over South and Southeast Asia, cooked a small feast in the dorm kitchens. There were always potatoes and there was always rice, and sometimes both in one dish, in the case of Rana’s biryani. Even though we had biryani, we still had to have white rice that night, and even though the biryani had potatoes in it, we still had potatoes in two other dishes. One of those was made by Anisha, who comes from Nepal. She called it potato salad, but I’ve learned that the Nepali name for the dish is Aloo Ko Achar. It is kind of a potato and cucumber pickle, though if you were faithful to Anisha’s translation and you Googled Nepali potato salad, you’d probably find versions of the same thing, some with cucumber and some without (Aloo Achar).
My translation would be “starch and tonic.” I’ve never been to Nepal, but I know how mountains are, and how the air is, and that’s exactly how Aloo Ko Achar is:
Mountain : crisp, thin air :: Potato: cucumber, fenugreek
Here’s a video for how to make Starch and Tonic, with a really endearing soundtrack:
“Baltimore Prayer” by Megan McShea, from A Mountain City of Toad Splendor
“Kathmandu” by Banira Giri, translated from the Nepali by Ann Hunkins, and printed in a beautiful anthology called Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from The Middle East, Asia, and Beyond, edited by Tina Chang, Nathalie Handal, and Ravi Shankar. Besides Food and Culture, I also taught a Poetry seminar in Bangladesh, and this anthology was our main text. Banira Giri is a woman poet from West Bengal in Nepal. She says, “my poems are not just personal expression; they are forged in the workshop of political and social sensitivity.”
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